Question:

A visiting lady at our ladies' Bible class said that Satan was was cast out of heaven because he was trying to rule the nations.  Because of this, he can rule people but not nations.  I had never heard this before and can't find anything to confirm it.

Answer:

I think that Why do people call Satan a fallen angel? best answers the question. There is nothing in the Bible about Satan not being able to rule the nations. As John said, "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one" (I John 5:19).

What I think she is referring to is "He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while. ... Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea." (Revelation 20:2-3, 7-8). Satan used his power to fool Rome and the nations it controlled into attempting to destroy Christianity. In his defeat, God locked up Satan (limited his power) for a long, complete period of time (represented by the 1,000 years). Your visitor takes from this that the limit is that Satan can't rule over nations. However, "the nations" is not a reference to civil governments but to people of various nationalities. What I take from this is that Satan is not allowed to bring about as wide spread of deceptions as he has done in the past -- at least, not until close to the end of the world.

One brother, whom I know, notes that Satan at least twice directly tempted people, Eve in Genesis 3 and Jesus in Matthew 4. But the angels have been locked up waiting judgment (II Peter 2:4). Since Satan is one of the fallen angels, this brother concludes that Satan can't personally tempt people. He is forced to use indirect means. He was allowed out temporarily when Jesus was in the world, which coincides with demon possessions and the like, but he has been locked up again until just before the end of the world. It sounds reasonable, but it would be difficult to prove.

While such difficult phrases are interesting to discuss, what too often happens is that people latch on to these passages and build elaborate teachings which really have nothing to do with the Scriptures. "... as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures" (II Peter 3:16). Sometimes the best answer is to say "I can't be sure." We can define some of the boundaries of what might be possible, but we may not come to know a precise meaning. As in this case, it is important to understand that:

  • God has limited Satan -- he can't do as he pleases.
  • God is protecting His people.

That I can't precisely define Satan's limitations shouldn't bother me. There are plenty of other passages which discusses how Satan operates and how Christians must be on their guard against his schemes.